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SERPENT'S TOOTH
By Faye Kellerman

Avon, 1998
ISBN 0-380-7625-4

Avon, May 1999, $6.99

Reviewed by S. E. Warwick

Once again Faye Kellerman weaves the gritty reality of contemporary Los Angeles and the ancient covenants of Orthodox Judaism into a complex tale that is both entertaining and educational.

The grisly crime that provides the Maguffin for the whole tale makes the novel feel like a police procedural at the beginning. Though parts of the Decker series are reminiscent of Anne Perryís Pitt series and other parts recall a whiff of Wambaugh, Kellermanís style and characters are all her own ingenious creation.

No loner in the traditions of Hammettís Continental Op, Kellermanís cop/hero, Peter Decker, sometimes craves solitude. Indeed in this outing, children from both of his marriages, his current wife, Rina, and an old friend from the charnel house that was Viet Nam, all find pieces to the puzzle that eludes Decker and his crack homicide team.

Kellerman throws in just enough details from Deckerís home life to let us know that like anything else, being a homicide detective is a job, more demanding than many, but still a means to put bread on the table.

Because the path that Peter Decker took from starting out as a cop in Miami with good southern Baptist roots to being an observant Jew in California is extremely convoluted, you might want to read The Ritual Bath, first in the series, to get your bearings.

This seems to be a transitional work for the series. Decker and Rina become more permanently bonded than in previous works. The family is moving from the house that was Deckerís before he remarried into a handymanís special that they will remodel to suit their needs. The youngest daughter, Hannah is starting pre-school while the oldest daughter, from Deckerís first marriage, dropped out of graduate school to follow in her daddyís footsteps, and Rinaís sons from her first marriage are becoming young men.

Unlike some contemporary mysteries where the crime is almost incidental to the story, Serpentís Tooth blends character and plot into a satisfying whole.


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